Today nearly one in every four children aged 5 to 14 are engaged in labour that is considered detrimental to their health and development. The prevalence of child labour is highest in sub-Saharan Africa according to statistics from the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Agriculture is by far the largest sector where child labour is found and one of the most dangerous in terms of fatalities, accidents and occupational hazards. Paul, now a class two pupil in a girl’s school and aged 16 lost his right leg to bandits is among millions of children in Africa who have experienced worst forms of torture.
Paul recalls his past life while working in the livestock sub sector where he would camp in the forest days and nights guarding livestocks. He narrates the story to AfricanQuarters in Kenya.
It happened one night in 2015, while with my friends in the field grazing and suddenly the bandits from the neighboring community struck. They were armed with sharp weapons and took away our goats. I rushed after the enemies to take back my animals, suddenly out of no where, a sharp pain hit my body. I was helpless; I screamed and fell on the ground. This is how I lost my right leg, Paul recalls.
Paul was rushed to the hospital and now lives at John Paul II Rescue Centre in Lokichar which is 85 kilometers from Lodwar town of Turkana County. The Centre has over 200 children rescued from exploitation, neglect, child labour among other forms of child mistreatment.
Most of the children in the centre are nursing various injuries that have led to various deformities and the cases are overwhelming as the Centre’s administrator sister Josephine Nambua explains “ The centre has limited space and finances to care for the growing number of these needy cases. In a month we are forced to turn away between 10 to 15 cases. She adds “ The centre has helped Paul to get an artificial limb or prosthesis and a temporal home. His mother also ran away from their home after they were attacked by the bandits and stays with a well wisher near the centre. For other children with different deformities we have to conduct different therapies that are very costly.’’
Photo 2 of The Administrator of John Paul II centre in Lokichar and where Paul is housed.
Paul has three other siblings who are not in school with their whereabouts remains unknown. He is determined to get an education. In staccatos he says,“ I need nothing but education, with the power of a pen I will wipe out those bandits who broke my leg. It is only by educating these bandits who are mostly children like me that we will end killings and banditry in our place.
Despite being the oldest in this class two due to his past lifestyle, Paul is not moved by the incessant and curious look from the little ones. Paul was admitted in the girls’ school since it is the only school available in the area and catering for children who are physically challenged. The school is planning to integrate male students who are now being admitted with various physical impairments.
Almost 60 percent of girls and boys (aged 5–17 years) in hazardous work are found in agriculture, historically and traditionally an under-regulated sector and one in which regulation enforcement is also difficult in many countries. Livestock forms a considerable sub sector within agriculture, with global demand for animal products rising. Turkana County which is about 625 kilometers from Nairobi is part of 80% of Kenya’s dry land area and majority of the population are pastoralists and nomads.
Poverty level is above 50% and according to UNICEF’s 2014 report on Ending Child Marriage, 32% of Turkana women aged between 20 and 49 were married before 18 and the same survey reveals that 102 in every 1000 women had given birth by the age of 19. The rates in Turkana County are higher compared with Kenya’s remaining 46counties.
‘’Here in Turkana we still have two types of people; those who value education and those that are opposed to it and they will never release their children to go school. Here at school we have a lot of challenges as parents never follow up their children once they bring them here. Others when they leave for home they never return. We also have cases of sexual abuse by their caregivers.’’ Mary Akoth Otiende, a teacher at Lokichar explains.
The students who have witnessed other forms of torture see Paul as a source of inspiration and look up to him for encouragement. Winnie and Nancy are some of the students in Paul’s class two who share similar dreams of becoming doctors. They are at times broken hearted seeing their fellow students battle with all sicknesses and deformities that they are unable to explain.
Parents who have sent their children for grazing and others are using them as bandits and soldiers to protect homes should bring them back to school. There are those I know who are involved in other forms of child labour. I hope they will one day join me in school with all their legs.’’ Paul spoke to AfricanQuarters from Lokichar in Northern Kenya.
Other forms of child exploitation in the area include sexual abuse. A ten-year-old girl is struggling to forgive a step father who has raped her twice in January and December 2015. Also several girls aged 12 and below are infected with HIV/AIDS but no one has ever disclosed to them how they were found in this state.
Paul looks at his leg and reminds the world that children‘s rights have to be respected.
– Wamoyi M. M., AfricanQuarters, Kenya